It was as soon as touted as a miracle answer to Japan’s power issues: making a “hydrogen society” by sharply ramping up use of the gasoline for automobiles, trade and housing. However the nation’s plan to increase its hydrogen market and slash greenhouse emissions has suffered delays and criticism over the gasoline’s inexperienced credentials.
As G7 local weather ministers meet this weekend within the northern Japanese metropolis of Sapporo, listed below are some key factors concerning the technique:
In 2017, Japan turned the primary nation to plot a nationwide technique for hydrogen energy, aiming to drastically scale up its use by 2030. The colourless, odourless gasoline is an thrilling prospect on paper.
It may be produced, saved and transported in giant portions, and doesn’t emit carbon dioxide when burned. These qualities are enticing to Japan, which is closely reliant on fossil gasoline imports.
Most of its nuclear reactors are nonetheless offline after the 2011 Fukushima catastrophe, and the nation set a aim two and a half years in the past of reaching carbon neutrality by 2050.
Gasoline cell blues
Hydrogen-powered gasoline cell automobiles, which Japanese automakers helped pioneer, had been a key a part of the unique plan. The federal government had hoped for 40,000 of those automobiles to be on the highway by 2020, and 800,000 by 2030. However by the top of final yr, simply 7,700 models had been offered within the nation since 2014.
Regardless of subsidies for consumers, they continue to be “very expensive”, even in comparison with battery-powered electrical automobiles, Kentaro Tamura, a Japan-based skilled on the Institute for International Environmental Methods (IGES), instructed AFP.
Hydrogen refuelling stations have excessive set up and maintenance prices, and are uncommon compared to charging spots for electrical automobiles, Tamura added.
The outcomes have been higher however nonetheless modest in housing — the opposite main space initially earmarked for hydrogen growth. A residential gasoline cell programme referred to as “Enefarm” was meant to equip 5.three million Japanese houses by 2030.
It makes use of gasoline to create hydrogen that reacts with oxygen from the air to generate electrical energy and warmth water. However by the top of 2022, simply 465,000 techniques had been put in, far in need of the federal government’s goal of 1.four million by 2020.
Worth is a key issue right here too, Tamura stated, with set up prices “very high compared with alternative technologies like heat pumps”.
Vitality specialists had been sceptical of Japan’s hydrogen technique from the beginning, as a result of it was launched with out making a dependable provide chain for environmentally pleasant “green” hydrogen, produced from renewable power sources.
As a substitute, Japan opted for so-called “grey” hydrogen, made utilizing greenhouse gas-emitting coal, petrol or gasoline, and “blue” hydrogen, which additionally comes from fossil fuels however with the carbon emissions captured and saved.
Within the meantime, nations equivalent to China and a few European nations have moved sooner on inexperienced hydrogen, which stays uncommon and costly however is vital to decarbonisation, the Japanese Renewable Vitality Institute think-tank says.
In March, Tokyo agreed to spend $1.6 billion on an bold however controversial enterprise in Australia to supply liquid hydrogen from lignite coal and export it to Japan. However critics say the undertaking’s “blue” hydrogen claims are primarily based on carbon seize know-how that doesn’t but exist.
Regardless of the setbacks, Japan will revise its hydrogen technique by the top of Could, with the Nikkei enterprise day by day reporting plans to extend its provide of the gasoline to 6 occasions the present degree by 2040.
It is usually selling one other use for hydrogen and its by-product ammonia: burning it alongside gasoline and coal at present energy stations, to scale back carbon emissions.
An official from the Ministry of Financial system, Commerce and Trade instructed AFP that ammonia co-firing is “a realistic means of energy transition that is more CO2-reducing and economically efficient than the early phase-out of coal-fired power and its replacement with renewable energy”.
However local weather campaigners query the worth of the costly apply on the trail to cleaner power. Japan is “the only G7 member” pushing for co-firing, Greenpeace’s Hirotaka Koike stated, describing it as a “national policy to keep the ‘sunset’ industry (of thermal power stations) alive”.